Jackson’s Underworld Rising?

Jackson’s Underworld certainly had its work cut out for it when we arrived last Friday; it’s no secret that our 2009 visit has been remembered as one of the worst haunted attractions we’d ever paid to see. I can firmly state that our experience of four years ago was not repeated, Jackson’s Underworld has made strides in the right direction but there remains a lot of work to be done in order for it to become one of Michigan’s must see haunted attractions.

The queue line is the same as it was four years ago and this is actually a good thing, as we waited in line during our first visit I can remember thinking that the haunt had promise based on this area. There’s a rather interesting animatronic here, it sat a top a large chair. Periodically it hummed to life as its head was lifted from the rest of its body by a crane, while it hovered midair the head  went over some basic rules of the haunt and also sprinkled in a few veiled threats.

The doorman was a bit of a character too, talkative and polite enough with guests, he was prone to a little exaggeration as well. When the group behind us began recounting their recent trip to Erebus, a trip they very much enjoyed, the doorman waved a dismissive hand and said, “This blows that away.” Hey, I’m not one to fault somebody for pushing their own product but some comparisons are best left unmade. He did do a fine job of spacing out guests and for that I’ll give him credit, nobody wants to run up on another group while trying to enjoy a haunted house.

Once John and I entered into the guts of Jackson’s Underworld the show began much as it did four years ago — a bit dull and meandering. We traversed a series of rooms with some decent looking props but the environments were far from immersive and we found not a ghoulish soul in sight. A room that featured two caskets contained a pair of oddly animated corpses — this was the highlight of the area.

I began to have an inkling that perhaps Jackson’s Underworld hadn’t changed very much since our last visit; fortunately the ghosts and goblins began to reveal themselves. The interaction was far from great, most of the actors were average at best with only a handful that offered anything more. Too often a creep would appear from behind a drop panel and bellow a generic phrase such as, “Get out of here” or “You’ll never escape alive.” Maybe these phrases worked on haunt goers once a upon a time but those type of vocalizations don’t move the needle anymore; in fact they sound silly and only serve to diminish the effect a haunted attraction is attempting to create.

I mentioned that the monsters frequently appeared from behind drop panels and this was another area of concern. Now, don’t get me wrong — drop panels are a staple of the haunted attraction industry but when not implemented well the gag will become tired and predictable. This was the case at Jackson’s Underworld, the panels were a standard square shape with absolutely no effort made to conceal them. And that’s truly a shame because there’s numerous ways to hide these, a picture frame is a popular option. The Scream Machine in 2009 employed a technique so effective the workers were able to catch us by surprise on multiple occasions.

I did say at the beginning of this review that Jackson’s Underworld had made strides in the right direction and I’d like to talk about some of those now before I become to mired in  the shortcomings here. The owners have taken care to add some fun and flair to the attraction with a flashy vortex tunnel, walls that lurched and shifted, and a laser lit passageway. There was no shortage of animatronics either — a saw blade sliced one man in half, a guillotine decapitated another, and we were even provided an intimate look at an animated electrocution. The attraction also featured a number of sprayers, the most forceful we’ve ever witnessed as a matter of fact. While I admired one of the aforementioned animatronics one of these sprayers positively drenched my pants and left me with the appearance of one who had just wet themselves — it gave John and I a good laugh.

Our favorite areas included a sheet draped maze that featured a wide-eyed crazy who bounded recklessly throughout the landscape while a strobe light impaired our vision. There was also a harlequin hideout that sported a never-before-seen, massive jack-in-the-box. Later we entered a meat locker with an impressive array of cold cuts on display; some of the props here had an unsettling realism. A highly detailed swamp scene near the conclusion of the attraction was well constructed, convincing, and enjoyable.

Unfortunately the moments of magic weren’t enough to gloss over the more glaring weaknesses of Jackson’s Underworld. Another aspect that irked me, as it has at many haunted attractions, is the use of wide hallways and large, open spaces. You don’t have to suffer from claustrophobia to appreciate the effects that small, tight passages inflict on human physiology. As we progressed through the haunted house I noticed just how expansive the hallways were; I even stuck out my arms and was able to easily stretch the entirety of my wingspan. I’m just shy of six feet tall and in my opinion that’s far too much wasted space. Whether it’s a transitional passageway or a key scene, the space occupied should always serve a purpose — it’s up to haunt operators to strike just the right balance.

I was reminded of several other attractions as we traversed Jackson’s Underworld, Adrian’s currently on hiatus The Haunting was one of them, but more than any other I was brought to mind of the sadly departed Homer Mill; fitting of course since the operators here once ran that as well. There was even an area of Jackson’s Underworld that afforded us a glimpse into an exterior courtyard, a scene that evoked a memory from our 2008 trip through the Homer Mill. I looked out upon it and wondered if the crew had done this as a subtle homage.

Jackson’s Underworld seemed to be headed in the right direction but a lot of work remains to be done. I can’t help but wonder if the design of the attraction really fit with the natural structure of the building itself. The owners here have the luxury of a truly imposing and creepy edifice — a man on site told me it was most recently used as a furniture warehouse. Perhaps the attraction is simply experiencing growing pains and will one day play to a theme that is more appropriate for the structure at hand; in the mean time the infusion of additional live actors would flesh out some of the dead areas.

Rating: 2.75 stars

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One Response to “Jackson’s Underworld Rising?”

  1. […] Jackson’s Underworld Rising? (2013) […]

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